Cities are Back in Town Seminar: “Toward a Global Urban Sociology”, November 12 (Sciences Po, France)

Based on archival research and interviews, this thesis explores the role of the Belgian Planning Bureau to the neoliberal turn that took place in Belgium in the early 1980s and its consolidation in the 1990s. It seeks to explain the institutional conversion of the Planning Bureau (and with it that of the planning process), as well as the direct and indirect influence of the economic expertise it provided on policymaking. To achieve this aim, the institutional position and resources of the Planning Bureau are carefully situated in broader national and transnational networks. Domestically, the Planning Bureau was located at the crossroad of three fields: governmental politics, corporatist negotiations and academic economics. Transnationally, the Bureau positioned itself as the privileged and credible interlocutor of the economic policy committees of two important international institutions, the OECD and the EU. It was also well embedded into an informal network of European planners. The thesis examines the role the Planning Bureau played as mediator in the Belgian neoliberal turn, first by channeling ideas between these different fields and levels of governance and secondly, by contributing via its expertise to the emergence of consensuses between the main socio-economic elites of this fragmented and extremely unstable political context. Thereby, this thesis furthers our understanding of how economic ideas are changed and merged with indigenous ideas when traveling across contexts. Secondly, by underlying the flexibility of planning techniques to different political ideas and development models, it opens avenues for new research by suggesting, prima facie at least, that the neoliberalization of planning might be reversible.

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